Cast bronze incense burner in the form of an
elephant standing upon integral rectangular base
with four zoomorphic feet and openwork lobed
cartouche at centre; cylindrical shaft emanates from
back of elephant forming support for detachable
bowl with beveled rim; tooled decoration over
This superb bronze incense burner was produced
during a period of Muslim dominance in India.
Having been established by Turko-Afghan tribes
during 12th century, the Delhi Sultanate would
extend Islam’s firm hold over India for the next 500
This period saw a succession of Turko-Afghan
dynasties and the synethesis of Islamic and Indian
culture; political institutions evolved in response to
Indian conditions and Hindu rulers, if they paid
fealty to the Sultans were welcome at royal activities.
By 16th century Islamic and Indian elements
reflected a balanced synthesis, which only grew
stronger over time. Many Hindus spoke Persian and
actively cultivated Iranian culture, even converting
to Islam by marriage. This synthesis is naturally
reflected and reiterated in the arts.
Metalwork was one of the major decorative arts of
this period and we see the perpetration of Indo-
Islamic forms initiated during the early Sultanate
The accentuated, near-feline form of the elephant
finds parallels in the abstracted felines of
contemporary Islamic metalwork, which themselves
borrow heavily from the Persian tradition. A clear
preference for stylization over naturalistic
articulation is evident from, among other elements,
the block treatment of the limbs, high undulating
trunk and tail and twin pointy ears. The incised
detailing, tooled rosettes and arabesque to the bowl
similarly derive from both Islamic and pre-Islamic
sources and articulate the spread of Central Asian
stylistic influence in India.
The stark stylistic differences between this elephant
and that of a Mughal incense burner of 17th century
at British Museum appear to indicate this piece
heralds from pre-Mughal India.